Harry Potter, Adam, and the Speghetti Monster

Harry Potter, Adam, and the Speghetti Monster
"Sorry guys...you haven't seen a small metal ball with wings flapping around by chance, have you?""

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Practical Magic: Cheap and subtle subsitutions for the poor or closeted witch

I've spoken before about simplifying one's practice and saving money and I decided to go further into this concept.
I'm going to give just a few  very simple, practical, low-cost solutions.  This is not meant to be an exhaustive list; it's just to give some ideas.  As I've said before, you (or I) are/am the only absolute essential in your/my practice.  All of the ritual tools, crystals, herbs can be a lot of fun and stimulate the senses, but none of them are truly necessary.  Witchcraft has its roots in resourcefulness...using what you have even when you don't have a lot.  It's not a bad idea to do a barebones practice for a while, just to remind oneself of that.

Huge altar with all the bells and whistles (literally)
Substitute: Candle, Glass of water, flower
Reason it works: 
The point of an altar is to have a visual representation of your craft, a place upon which to concentrate your focus and something to which to tend in order to keep your practice alive.  You can do all of this with just the few items above.  Furthermore, it is very discrete.  If you live with other people who you do not wish to know about your practice, this is the way to do it. No one has to know it is anything but a decoration.   Tools such as swords and wands can be replaced by one's finger.
Blessing oil for dressing candles, etc.
Substitute: Olive oil
Reason it works:
Olive oil, according to mythology, comes from the tree which won Athena the patronage of the city of Athens because its citizens judged it to be more useful than Poseidon's well. It has also been used in rites of the major Abrahamic religions as a blessing and healing oil.  This shouldn't be a surprise given the multiple demonstrated health benefits of olive oil which include lower cholesterol, improved coronary health, and possible prevention of certain types of cancer.  Olive oil, therefore, is just as good as any to be a blessing oil if more complicated solutions are not available or practical.

Store-bought preserved herbs for incense
Substitute:  Decorative herbs on meals and herbal teabags
Reason it works:
I remembered the year I realized that it was a shame to let the rosemary sprig on the Christmas turkey go to waste.  It had barely been touched by the sauce and would have otherwise been thrown away.  Why not wash it, save it, and use it for spell casting? Also, I find that herbal teabags tend to be less expensive than dried, preserved herbs.  If one does not have a huge budget for herbs, it's a good idea to use herbs that can be given multiple uses either because of their medical properties or their lore and symbolism.   Rosemary and Vervain are both good examples.  If you have an incense burner, you can simply place herbs on burning charcoal to make incense.
Ancient grimoire 
Substitute: Hebrew or Christian Bible, Quran
Reason it works: Some people do not like to use ancient grimoires at all, but others do and find them hard to come by and expensive when they do.  Well, if you like ancient grimoires and do not have a fortune to spend, than you have only to look at some of the most easily-accessible ancient spell books in the world: the Bible(s) and the Quran.  The Psalms, for example, have a very long tradition of magical use for purposes such as protection, healing, and court cases. 

Full ancestor's altar
Substitute: Picture of a departed relative, with an offering behind it
Reason it works: 
Similar to the simplified devotional altar above, it's very cheap and no one has to be the wiser.  The offering can be very simple; a glass of water or alcohol, something that represents them or that they enjoyed in life.

Decorations and full ceremonies for Holy Days
Substitute: Food
Reason it works:
Everyone likes food.  You can't put all kinds of candles around the house for the 1st of February? Burn one candle and make some kind of milk pastry for desert. If not, eat ice cream.  You can't hold a full moon ceremony without people looking at you weird? Say you've decided to try your hand at Asian cuisine and make mooncakes instead.  If you cook well and you share your food, no one will ask you why you made it. 

Ritual broom and some other ritual tools
Substitute:  Household broom (and other double-duty tools)
Reason it works:
...Because there's no reason it shouldn't.  Many people have the idea that having separate tools and clothing is required for one's magic to be effective.  While they may help you get into a different state of mind for ritual, it is by no means a requirement.  The whole reason many of these tools have magical symbolism is specifically due to their mundane usage, so why would mundane usage necessarily profane them?  If you cannot afford a broom from a broom squire, use your household broom.
Tarot Cards or other ready-made divination cards
Substitute: Playing cards
Reason it works:
As I've said before, cards work by your insight being triggered by images.  There are many images on playing cards that can be used to this effect, including the suits, the royal cards, and the numbers.  All of those can be significant.  Of course, one then has to go about figuring out those symbols for oneself, but this should be relatively easy if you come from a culture where those images are very common. 

 Statues of deities or animals
Substitute: Print-out, drawing with cardboard or photo paper as a support
Reason it works: 
If you cannot buy statues of your favorite mythological deities or saints, then either draw them or print them out from the Internet.  Once you have the physical representation, making a "stand" is fairly easy.  Just cut out two pieces of photo paper or card board and glue them to the back so as to make them stand up.  Or, make them wall photos.  This achieves the purpose of having statues; namely ensuring a physical representation of whatever or whomever you are trying to honor or manifest.

And if all else fails...words.  One's words are only limited by one's imagination, so use them to their full effect.

These are just a few ideas; if you have others, feel free to comment.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Embracing mystery to have certainty

What attracted me to the label "atheist" to begin with was what I perceived as a certain level of intellectual honesty. On one hand, you had people who claimed to know very specific things about all kinds of invisible beings that they called Gods. People could tell you their personality traits, what foods they liked and what drinks they would reject, their favorite numbers, their superpowers and with whom they thought we should or should not sleep.   I admired the atheists' movement for saying, "How do you know any of this?" and for having the courage to admit that we have no known basis to believe in any of that.

My my, how things have changed.   Recently I have wondered if I should continue with the "atheist" label. Not because I feel that my outlook is no longer atheist. (And not because of the so-called Atheist+ controversy.) It's just that, to be honest, some attitudes among many self-proclaimed atheists and naturalists are starting to annoy me. I feel as if we are often guilty of the same dogmatism that we criticize in many versions of literal monotheistic or polytheistic faith, and often for the same reasons.

Many dogmatic monotheists who claim to take the Bible or Qur'an or other holy book reject phenomena such as evolution of life forms, for example. They do this because they do not want to deal with the emotional consequences of accepting a truth in the world that contradicts their established worldview. There is emotional attachment to the certainty of knowing what one knows, and the identity and social connections one forms around it which gives them an incentive to exclude information.

As it turns out, many so-called atheists or naturalists are the same way. I say this not because atheists and naturalists loudly defend science--science is a very good thing and has given much to humanity. However, science answers only three things to any question asked of it: yes, no, or I don't know. Whether magical practices can have an effect on the outside world fall into the third category, although many atheists would attribute it to the second. If someone casts a money spell, and they note no change in their finances, many atheists would smugly deride him or her for believing in irrational non-sense. If a change was noted, many atheists would chalk it up to coincidence. And if the person consistently has success in money spells, many atheists would either consider the person to be delusional or imply that the psychological effect trained the subject to make more sound financial decisions, hence increasing his or her revenue. Those are all good hypotheses, and they may be true. However, it doesn't change the fact that there is insufficient data to draw a definitive conclusion. I think that part of the reason many atheists decide not to leave it at that is because it produces emotional discomfort in a similar fashion that evolution does for some religious fundamentalists.

This world is more complicated than any of us have understood and possibly will ever understand.  For proof of that, we have only to look at ourselves. Most, if not all of us, are at some point troubled by our own inner worlds. We do not know why or how we feel certain emotions, which are often conflicting and contradictory. We have crises of conscience and identity. We either hesitate to act or leap into action, often against our conscious will. If consequences arise out of our behavior, we do our best to explain it to ourselves after the fact, all the while knowing that we still might repeat the same behavior that got us into trouble in the first place. Our scientific understanding of our own consciousness and memories is still  limited, despite the lifelong experience we all have with them and their undisputed interest. So is it really a surprise that comprehensive scientific explanations of dark matter, dark energy, abiogenesis and quantum mechanics continue to elude us? We still can't explain ourselves.

Some respond to this dilemma by claiming that we will certainly one day explain all of human experience through our existing scientific conceptual frameworks. Some deny the reality of any experience or belief that cannot explained (but not disproved) through existing scientific frameworks, and assume anyone claiming otherwise to be either delusional, ignorant or lying. They would justify this by claiming that many people have been proven to be just that while highlighting the dangers of sacrificing "rationality" for the emotional comfort of religion.

What is ironic about this stance is that it actually shows a lot of emotionality and subjectivity.  With such pending mysteries in areas which are so fundamental, it seems silly to not even be open to the possibility of even very fundamental ideas that we have about the universe being completely turned on their head in the future.  It is also seems risky to attempt to usurp "rationality" or "objectivity".    Whether we like it or not, none of us are completely objective.  We are all influenced and limited by a lifetime of subjective experiences.   

Some people would say that we should still strive to be as objective as possible in all circumstances.  But there's a tiny problem with that stance as well.  It's not tenable for any human being; it doesn't work. There's a reason why Descartes said "I think, therefore I am" to explain consciousness.  It may technically be a non-explanation, but it's a hell of a lot more satisfying than "No double-blind study shows that I think, so who knows if I am?".  My thoughts, my feelings, my experience are as real to me as anything else in the external world.  So I have to find a way to fit them into my conscious worldview.  An explanation of the world that completely excluded them would be pretty useless to me. 

So I think that the most tenable stance is to accept the truth---there is mystery out there, and subjectivity is a source of workable truth.  Objectivity doesn't assign a purpose to life? Well, I guess my subjectivity will have to make one.  But not in opposition to objectivity, even though it may seem that way.  It's simultaneously holding two ideas, even contradictory ideas, that leads to truth. It leads to mystery, which leads to certainty at the same time.

So are you a polytheist, an atheist, a pantheist, an agnostic or a monotheist? You could be them all at the same time.  That's how you understand the universe.  Just like a 3-dimensional object can look different from different angles or perspectives, the universe can be validly understood from different perspectives which are all valid and all limited at the same time. Realizing that it can validly be understood in many ways leads to greater understanding.  Not understanding makes you understand. 

You know, I think I'll keep the "atheist witchcraft" label.   It's contradictory, but it highlights that simultaneous contradiction can lead to truth.  And I'm cool with that.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Happy New Year and a prayer for the ancestors


Happy 2013 everyone!!!  May this year bring you as much peace, prosperity and knowledge as desirable.

Let me start the year out by sharing a prayer that I now say before my ancestral altar, before giving my offering.

Dear ancestors, known and unknown to me
From my closest blood relatives  (possible names) all the way to abiogenisis
To my intellectual idols, to my dearly departed animals

Thank you for giving me the gift of existence
Thank you for the examples of your lives

Thank you for the love shown by those of you who shared your life with mine
Please take this offering [incense, food, alcohol, flowers] as a symbol
of my devotion
May you enjoy it and find nourishment 

and may my memory of you live on

More to come soon.